Published on November 21st, 2012 | by Brian Gendron
Thanks for Can-Shaped Cranberry Sauce
Oh, the American dream! We eat amazing food; we tell stories and make memories that get passed on year to year; Aunt Gilda falls asleep after three-too-many G-and-Ts; the dog has a field day with the free handouts. Most importantly, we give thanks. Thanks you say?! For what? This economy? This [war, bills, insert your complaint here]?
No, these are not the thanks we should be giving! Psychology has recently demonstrated the power of (literal) thanks-giving, and, if focused on the right things, the very act is enough to increase happiness, decrease aggressive behavior, and basically make life better.
Some evidence goes beyond correlational studies to laboratory experiments. Those who list things they are grateful for report being happier and in a better mood compared to people who list problems or even just neutral things. Research also show that part of our happiness depends on whether we compare ourselves upward to those who seemingly have it better than us, or downward to people who would seemingly love to be in our position.
This boost in satisfaction also holds for those with serious diseases. After expressing thanks for what is right in life, these people become happier. Each of us has something to be thankful for, so there’s a lesson to be learned here: No matter how bad you think you have it, there’s always some sucker who has it worse–and that’s food for thought!
Do these results just go away once Thanksgiving is over? HECK NO AMIGO! Giving thanks on a daily basis actually tricks the hedonic treadmill (the view that people have to do more and more just to maintain the same level of happiness). In actuality, people can continually be happier and happier with the same stuff.
“Ingrates! Just be thankful for what you DO have,” screamed the Dictator.
What about fending off attacks over mashed potatoes and gravy? Families are notorious for arguing, with some debates heating up to war. Fortunately, research also has a tip for putting out the fire and keeping things civil. Giving thanks can decrease aggression, and probably as a result of increased empathy. Aggressive behavior involves hurting someone who is motivated to… not get hurt. A person with empathy, or care for other humans, may have respect for what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes… perhaps because they just expressed thanks for their Louis Vuittons.
Whatever you’re grateful for, there’s no denying that Thanksgiving is an outlier among 365 days of the year. Food, sports, and family festivities–what’s not to love? Each can lead to happiness… or wanting to tear your hair out. In the case of the latter, we recommend giving thanks for what you do have.
WTFreud is thankful for: Can-shaped cranberry sauce:.